Every once in a very blue moon, I’ll go to a mini-warehouse auction.
The realities of this low-down clearance process is completely unlike the miracles and glories that come with episodes of Storage Wars. You want junky third world quality furniture? Or memoirs of the 1980’s and 1990’s left behind by your neighbors from their very last estate sale before they finally moved to a condominium? The local storage auctions are the place to go. 80% to 90% pure junk.
This is where I recently found this wrecked 2002 Toyota Solara SE with 140k miles. For $375, it was all mine.
28 years. That’s how long the first and only owner of this 1982 VW Jetta Diesel Coupe kept his commuter. Apparently he didn’t do that much driving. 192,500 leisurely miles with a 55 horsepower engine equates to less than 7,000 leisurely miles a year. That is a mileage figure that borders on the miraculous here in traffic happy Atlanta.In all my years of buying and selling cars I had never seen one owned by the same driver for such a long period of time. Heck, I was in elementary school when Mr. JT Allison bought this thing! It had been on the lot for at least 8 months beforehand according to the Carfax history and with gas prices cratering by April 1983… I’m sure Mr. Allison didn’t pay any more than $8,000 for this thing.So… what should I do with it?
I buy a lot of cars from the last week of September thru mid-November. This is a dead zone for the dealer side of the business. We have no major holidays that encourage spending. No Christmas bonuses or tax reasons to spur demand. Plus a lot of the auto finance companies try to liquidate their used inventory so that they can hit their earnings for the year.A lot gets sold and if you’re quick about it, deals can be found.
There are two extremes when it comes to minivan buyers. There are those who want all the options and knick-knack’s checked and marked for their next Mommy-mobile. Automatic dual sliding doors. DVD systems that can offer a continuous loop of ‘Barney’. Fortress like levels of safety and space combined with enough airbags and sound insulation to make even the worst of traffic a passing thought.
Then there’s the buyer for this minivan.
What would be your ideal car? Would you like to have the best of the best? A car that offers all the power and luxury an enthusiast could ever desire?
Or are your tastes a bit simpler? An amply powered but safe utility vehicle that will let you do all your work without a hint of regret about scratches or four figured maintenance bills.
This ‘ideal car’ question yields a thousand shades of gray in practice. Take this Mazda MX-5 for instance.
$100,000 can buy you an awful lot of cars these days. This morning I could have bought a 2011 Lotus Elise with 1100 miles ($42k), a 2003 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 with 16,000 miles ($24k), a 2003 BMW 745Li in mint condition with 80k (18K), and enough left over to take my family on a two month cruise.
But back in 1989 I could not have bought this car brand new for $100K. Not even close. A Mercedes 420 SEL would have set you back $111,000 in inflation adjusted terms before adding options, taxes and bogus fees.
I ended up buying the one pictured a few weeks ago for $1300 (and $115 auction fee). Should I…
The 1st generation LH sedans. Dodge Intrepid. Chrysler Concorde. Eagle Vision. These three beautiful masterpieces took Chrysler from an amortizing also-ran to a technological front-runner.
They offered everything back in the day. An optional 214 Horsepower engine that used the twice as expensive Acura Legend’s engine as a benchmark. Cab forward styling that transformed Chrysler’s bread and butter cars from staid three-box K car creations to coveted sleek machines. Oh and the features? Unbeatable for the time. Traction control. Leather seats that were angus thick. Infinity sound systems. They were hard to beat… and yet so easily beaten.
Kia no longer exists. Yes there is that Hyundai subsidiary now known as Kia. But before Kia Motors went Chapter 11, there was this strange Korean company that sold spasm inducing horrific vehicles.
I’m not sure any female car enthusiast would ever be happy with the name Sephia. Just saying that name alone can induce ugly flashbacks for prior owners and dealers. Sportage rhymed with ‘shortage’ and had parts that may have indeed come directly from plastic soda bottles and aluminum foil. Then there was this plain wretched thing…
I was happy as can be this past Monday. A 1999 Firebird with T-Tops was bought for the princely sum of $2750 at a recent sale. Then there was something I hadn’t experienced in a long while. A $300 car. A ‘good’ $300 car. The type that may have nothing more than a banged in door or a mechanical issue easily corrected by visiting an enthusiast site. The car in question was a 1986 Toyota Cressida. Older than dirt as far as cars go.
But then again could I…
What is luxury?
Back in 1999, that was an easy question to answer in the U S of A. Three Letters: S U V . When I first started in the auction business these mastodons absolutely dominated the marketplace. You could go to the nearest Ford factory auction and quite literally pick out your colors, trim, and options. Want running boards, all wheel drive and a trip computer? Sure. Want it in Black with the all too common grey interior? Absolutely! Want to get it all in a model exactly like the Ford Explorer but call it something different for the hell of it? Well, why not!
The 1999 Mercury Mountaineer rang up at $30k loaded when new. 12 years, $4 gas, and 180k miles later, I bought it at a public sale for $1200. Should I…
The relentless pursuit of perfection. A lot of companies like to pretend that they mean it. Six sigma certifications. Cutting edge technologies. All the adjectives and adverbs worthy of a PR press release. But very few of them do. Even those that warrant those words for a time and place fall short when it comes time for their next step.
Sometimes it’s when they try to make the great leap from a niche segment to the mainstream. Apple, Black & Decker, Chrysler… hundreds of companies throughout the 1990’s tried to redefine themselves through expanding their audience. Most came out with worse products through the double edged sword of ‘blanding’ their focus while cost cutting their offerings. Apple clones, B&D plasticized tools, Chrysler’s 2nd gen LH sedans. They all failed. Toyota succeeded with the Lexus LS400. Here’s why.
Some folks in the industry believe that Toyota has decontented themselves out of the top tier of quality. I don’t know if that’s true… yet. But I do know that they are not the only non-domestic manufacturer to have gone down that path. Not long after Mercedes turned the W124 model into a glorified Taurus, the Swedes begin sauntering into the path of cheap redesigns.
The goal as always was profit. To make the cheaper product (the 1998 Volvo S70) resemble the better one (the much loved 1993 – 1997 Volvo 850). The outcome became very profitable… for me.
The eyes were covered in a yellowish puss-like film. Jaundice? Nope, bad seals from the factory had made the headlights brittle and useless. Almost like old fly paper but without the elasticity. The leather seats up front were all cracked and peeling. Rear speakers were out. The alarm system had a mind of it’s own. Spontaneously singing it’s praises whenever there was a rare dull moment on the lot. But the kicker?
It’s the most popular car in my fleet. Teenagers, old(ish) hell-raisers. Even folks with the proverbial mid-life crisis without the means of a Vette want this car. I had six interested buyers within two hours. Meanwhile the minivans are molderizing in their appliance like utility. During tax time the “popular” cars can have price premiums as high as Cheech and Chong’s “Nice Dreams.” So this is what I did.
12 years. That’s how long I drove a 1994 Toyota Camry LE coupe. It was red with a sunroof and ABS. Truly loaded for the time. But not quite loaded for the modern day. I never even considered anything else because to me this was just like an underpowered Lexus without the cost.
We’re talking the type of quiet and serenity that many compact vehicles (which this technically was) still can’t match. The 3rd Generation Camry was the absolute peak of Toyota’s over-engineering prowess and my car pulled a straight 239k with nary a hiccup. One owner later, it just recently crested the 300k mark with plenty of life left on the original powertrain. With that in mind I can…
28.3 miles per gallon. That’s what it said on the Lincoln’s trip computer. Was it real? I hated to think that some electronic glitch had made this Lincoln an eternal optimist. But one thing certainly helped it’s cause. A great owner. An awesome owner. The type of owner you want to thank years later for keeping the car in such great shape. Yes, this Lincoln was a creme puff. So now I can…
Before Lexus began it’s pursuit for perfection. Before Acura had built the Legend and seared the J.D. Power surveys. Even before there was such a thing as an ‘affordable sports sedan’. There was this car.
The Baby Benz was on the periphery of what was class-leading in the early-80’s, and what was clearly class-lagging by the early 90’s. It had great handling but… not a lot of power. Great pedigree but… not cheap at all for an entry level luxury car. Lots of features… but boy did it break your bank account when they broke. And break they did.
Have you ever seen a car truly ratted out? I’m not talking about the Oscar Madisons amongst us who leave their food wrappers in their cars til’ kingdom come. I’m talking about a real rat car. Interior seats with more thread than fabric. Transmission shifts that make the car jerk quicker than John Ashcroft at a Mardi Gras. Panels with more dents than…. you get the idea. The owner of this Grand Prix decided to get an advanced pharmacology degree during the waning moments of ownership. He was kind enough to bring what was left of the car after his latest meeting with the local magistrate, and with $410 left on the note I could…
Jack Baruth thinks that any vehicle can be entertaining to drive. Well he’s never owned one of these. This 5-speed base model is a masterpiece of simplicity… and boredom. I used every trick I know to find happiness with it. Rev it in fifth. Rev it in third. Hypermile it. Even throw in a sound system to replace the chintziest radio this side of a Tercel EZ. Nothing worked. But then again this Prizm has almost nothing that can break in it either. This generation Prizm is arguably the most reliable GM model of the 1990’s (thanks Toyota!). And with only 126k miles and $1500 in the hole I can…
Forget about Prius envy. Back in the Y2K era the Prius was about as loved as… well… a Suzuki Kizashi. Gas was cheap and the crown & glory for suburban Mom’s who liked to, drive, was, a ‘big’ vehicle. It could be a Suburban, an Explorer, or in the case of the Lang brood, a Chrysler minivan. We loved them back in the day.
Our keeper for about three years was a 1996 Grand Caravan that I bought for $2950 back in 2002. 102k, an unloved 3.0L V6, rear air, power locks but manual windows. It was a strange bird that never saw the light of depreciation. We sold it for $2800 in 2005. Between then and now we must have owned 40 other minivans. Homegrown frugality and Hurricane Katrina helped me become a trader of minivans rather than a keeper. Cheap gas went the way of well… the minivan. But if you asked me which minivan I loved above all others back in the day, it would be this 2000 Chrysler Town & Country. Here’s why…
You have arrived. Through the sweat and brow of your efforts, you have achieved the rewards of upper middle class living. A nice job. A nice spouse. Two very quaint child like creatures, and of course… the car. A beautiful burgundy luxury car with opulent leather, elite walnut trim, a premium ‘Surround sound’ system with a quite advanced CD player, and a trademark waterfall grille on the front. In the late 1990’s your car stacks out at about $34,000 new. Fast forward 12 years, two recessions and 180k miles later, and you may be able to get a discount. How does $900 sound to you? With that in mind do you…
Back in 2003, nearly a third of the vehicles I bought were either Volvos or Subarus. An auctioneer friend of mine described these cars as ‘wanna-be’s’. Since most of the buyers of these vehicles at his uncle’s car lot seemed to all fit the bill of an aspiring Yuppie. A lot of education. A lot of debt. Very little knowledge about cars beyond the Consumer Reports and monthly car mags. These buyers were a near nuisance in the Atlanta outskirts due to their pickiness and excessive question asking. For me though it was a different story.
What killed Saturn? Blandness. An unending sea of uninspiring designs and sibling ripoff’s destroyed what could have been GM’s most successful project of the last 30 years. Of course they’re not alone in the branding malaise. Ford had Mercury. Chrysler had Plymouth. A lot of folks here would argue that Toyota’s Scion is becoming a living testament to compromises that yield a death defining brand. Throw in Acura’s (lack of) reputation, Infiniti and Kia during their low points, and even the winners can sometimes be losers. Which means that with no cache, a Theft Recovery title, and 93k on the odometer, I bought it cheap. $1600. Therefore I can…
Why did someone from Atlanta keep this? An all-wheel-drive SUV is not exactly the best choice for Atlanta’s hot climates and long commutes. You get abysmal fuel economy. A mediocre safety record. Higher repair costs due to the all-wheel-drive system. Did I mention the solarium effect out here that takes dashboards and discolors and deforms them? When I bought this for $1000, I was seemingly going against the conventional wisdom. But I wasn’t… here’s why…
20 years. Most marriages and capital offenses don’t have that level of commitment. To think of how long that is for any daily driver, consider what was not in most cars back then. Airbags, anti-lock brakes, cd players… heck ‘premium sound’ usually landed you nothing more than a cassette deck and four speakers. Now consider that this one owner 1990 Buick Century has a design dating all the way back to 1982. We’re talking about a period of design where the world’s most popular entertainment consisted of Pac-man & Atari 2600’s. Ancient times. Good times. But bad times for Detroit. Very, very bad times.
It was the best of cars. It was the worst of cars. A silver 2001 Saab 9-5 was slowly making it’s way through the auction lane. It was a base model… and yet loaded. This silver 9-5 base came with a leather interior, sunroof, a 9 speaker Harman-Kradon stereo system, and heated seats for the front and rear. It was also a museum piece. No interior wear. No paint chips. The only thing worn on it was the Saab emblem in front… which is typical. 60+ dealers were in the lane that day. But most were looking at the usual finance fodder. I bought the Saab for $2250 (plus $115 fee) and weighed my options.
It’s one of my favorite cars. Don’t ask me why. Engine straight from a Vette. Rear wheel drive as God rightfully intended. Big leather seats that are as thick as a saddle, and a ride that Norman Rockwell would approve of. This late great Roadmaster has 158,000 miles and nary a check engine light or mechanical issue in sight. It rides great. The cosmetics? Not bad. A little glue on the door strips here and there thanks to Georgia summers and GM bean counters. I’ll tell ya, if gas were $1 a gallon this would have already been in my garage. It rides like heaven but with gas treading $3 in the low demand winter season, it’s hitting the road; especially since I paid $1385 for the beast.
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